Quantitative determination of specific analytes is essential for a variety of applications ranging from life sciences to environmental monitoring. Optical sensing allows non-invasive measurements within biological milieus, parallel monitoring of multiple samples, and less invasive imaging. Among the optical sensing methods currently being explored, ratiometric fluorescence sensing has received particular attention as a technique with the potential to provide precise and quantitative analyses. Among its advantages are high sensitivity and inherent reliability, which reflect the self-calibration provided by monitoring two (or more) emissions. A wide variety of ratiometric sensing probes using small fluorescent molecules have been developed for sensing, imaging, and biomedical applications. In this research highlight, we provide an overview of the design principles underlying small fluorescent probes that have been applied to the ratiometric detection of various analytes, including cations, anions, and biomolecules in solution and in biological samples. This highlight is designed to be illustrative, not comprehensive.
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